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Trump supporters storm US Capitol, lawmakers evacuated

WASHINGTON (AP) — Violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding, in a stunning attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.

One woman was confirmed to have been shot and killed. The National Guard and state and federal police were called in for control, and rare evening curfews were declared in Washington and nearby Virginia suburbs.

The protesters were egged on for weeks by Trump, who since the November presidential election had launched a barrage of false attacks on the integrity of the results. While rallying his supporters outside the White House Wednesday morning, he urged them to march to the Capitol. But later — hours after they fought police and breached the building — he told them in a video that although they were “very special people” and he backed their cause, they should “go home in peace.”

Other than a pair of tweets and that minute-long video, Trump was largely disengaged from the occupation of a main seat of the nation’s government. It was Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump, who spoke with senior defense leaders about calling up the National Guard.

President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, had declared in Wilmington, Delaware: “I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,”

Biden said that democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans.

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement, ‘This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not our democratic republic.” Without actually naming Trump, he said the assault on the Capitol “was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes. Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation.”

Even for a Capitol building that has seen centuries of protests and even violence — including a 1954 shooting involving Puerto Rican nationalists — Wednesday’s events were astounding because they appeared to unfold at least initially with the blessing of the president and also because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a lawful presidential election.

The chaotic protests halted Congress’ constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had tried to steer Congress away from Wednesday’s formal protest of those results, and he said at the start of proceedings that Trump had clearly lost.

Wednesday’s ordinarily mundane procedure of Congress certifying a new president was always going to be extraordinary, with Republican supporters of Trump vowing to protest election results that have been certified by the states. But even the unusual deliberations, which included Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader McConnell defying Trump’s demands, were quickly overtaken by the chaos.

In a raucous, out-of-control scene, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. One person was reported shot at the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the situation. That person’s condition was unknown. At least one explosive device was found but law enforcement said it did not pose a threat.

More than a dozen people were arrested.

As darkness began to set in, law enforcement officials worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to try to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible. Police in full riot gear moved down the steps, clashing with demonstrators.

It added up a frightening scene for lawmakers, who were directed to take extraordinary action for their own safety. The protesters abruptly interrupted the congressional proceedings in an eerie scene that featured official warnings directing people to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when protesters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like. They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled,” Peters said.

”And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.

A clerk helped grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwis, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.

Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos. Messages posted on one turned from profane frustration over the content of Trump’s speech to glee when supporters stormed the building. At least one leading figure was livestreaming video from inside the Capitol during the siege.

The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol.

Pence was closely watched as he stepped onto the dais to preside over the joint session in the House chamber.

Pence had a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he was under growing pressure from Trump to overturn the will of the voters and tip the results in the president’s favor, despite having no legal power to affect the outcome.

”Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.

Arizona was the first of several states facing objections from the Republicans as Congress took an alphabetical reading of the election results. Then the chaos erupted.

Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Jill Colvin, Kevin Freking, Alan Fram, Ben Fox and Ashraf Khalil in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Sebring CRA set for big impact in 2021

SEBRING — After the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency Board approved a loan on Dec. 23 to borrow $1.5 million for property acquisition and renovation, Board Chair David Leidel said the CRA will make a big impact in the CRA district.

He offered more details on that impact for 2021 at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

He said the CRA plans to return to the City Council for approval of an additional $5 million loan once its master plan is updated.

The CRA staff is working with the city’s purchasing agent to develop three RFPs (request for proposals) now, Leidel said. “We have plans for the Nan-Ces-O-Wee property RFP to be on our agenda at next week’s board meeting.”

The RFPs for the two buildings on the Circle should be ready to go out for solicitation no later than Feb. 14, he said. The CRA purchased the buildings last year at 209 Circle Park Drive and 301 Circle Park Drive.

“Next week we will have members from S&ME [design firm] in town to meet with City Council members and CRA Board members as part of the master plan kickoff,” he said. The expectation is that it will take S&ME about six months to make the updates to the CRA’s master plan.

Some of the items hoped for in the new plan include: a rent subsidy for new businesses in the district, an extension of time for the CRA to exist, and the ability to offer competitive incentives to attract new businesses to the CRA district, Leidel said.

At the CRA meeting on Monday the board will approve the contract with Kimley Horn (planning firm) to begin the design phase of the waterfront project, he said.

“This is perhaps one of the most exciting endeavors that we will embark on this year since this project has been part of the CRA’s plan for over 30 years,” Leidel said. This project will start with meetings moderated by Kimley Horn with council members, stake holders and public input to determine the best use of the waterfront for the district.

Once the plan has been designed it will be brought to council for approval with the hope to begin construction around this time next year, he said.

“While everyone has high expectations for 2021, I can tell you that the CRA is in the process of making a big impact in our district this year,” Leidel said. “Updating the master plan, beginning the waterfront design, filling downtown vacancies and starting construction on the old are just the beginning of what we plan to take place in downtown Sebring.”

After the council meeting, Leidel said if the CRA borrows $5 million it would be used primarily for property acquisition and renovation.

County's COVID positivity rate rises deaths

SEBRING—Highlands County did not have a good day when the Florida Health Department’s COVID-19 daily report was issued on Wednesday. All the data points that reflect how good or bad the county is doing were up, and not in a good way. New cases were up, the positivity rate was way up and deaths were up.

According to the FDOH report, Highlands County had 74 new cases of coronavirus, nearly triple the new cases from Tuesday’s 25 cases. The new cases brings the overall cases to 5,253 infections. The breakdown is 5,199 residents and 54 residents, which is one more non-resident infected from Tuesday.

There were two additional deaths reported since Tuesday. The new deaths brought the county’s total to 210 lives lost.

The positivity rose sharply to 17.35% from 14.12% on Tuesday. There were 415 tests processed with 343 negative results. Testing was up significantly over Tuesday’s170 tests.

The FDOH report shows 309 cases over the past seven days, for a 44.14 new cases per day on average. The past 14 days shows 527 cases, which is an average of 37.64 new cases per day.

According to the Highlands County Board of County Commission, 270 vaccines were administered at the Lakeshore Mall Point of Distribution (POD). The FDOH reports 234 vaccines given on Jan. 5. The same report shows 1,045 people have received the first dose of the vaccine in the county and one person who has had both shots for a full dose.

The daily median age is 63, the highest it has been since Dec. 23 (the last available date on the report). The overall median age is 51. The highest rate of death is from those 75-84 years old. The same age range shows 80 deaths.

Highlands has seen 447 hospitalizations with 69 hospitalizations on Wednesday per the Agency for Health Care Administration. AHCA also reported the county’s ICU bed census as 24 with six beds available.

The long-term care facilities have seen 505 cases, or 10% of all cases. Highlands County has twice the percentage rate as the state from long-term care facilities, which is at 5% of all cases. Highlands County has had 9% of all its coronavirus cases require hospitalizations, whereas the state has had 5% of its cases, requiring hospitalizations.

Statewide, the new cases have been steadily increasing. Wednesday was no exception with an additional 17,783 new cases. The total cases have risen to 1,409,906 infections. Residents comprise 1,385,040 of the total cases and non-residents make up the other 24,866 infections.

The state saw an increase of 132 deaths attributed to COVID-19. The deaths now total 22,647 in the state. There have been 22,317 residents who have died and 330 non-residents deaths.

Florida’s daily positivity rate is 12.54%, just a tick better than Tuesday’s rate of 12.74%. Florida processed 138,528 tests with 121,158 negative results.

Highlands County has had 54 deaths from long-term care facilities residents and staff.

The U.S. saw case numbers that were pretty close to the seven-day averages, as there were 214,378 new cases, which brings the seven-day average to 214,147, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s Tuesday night report. The number of tests given were 1,620,506, which is several thousand more than the seven-day average of 1,616,061.

The country did see 3,478 deaths, which is well-above the seven-day average of 2,649, while hospitalizations recorded another all-time high at 131,195. Of those hospitalizations, 23,512 are in ICU units.

Eleven states hit all-time highs in hospitalizations per million people, with the majority of them in the South, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.

California’s case numbers were down a bit, with the California Department of Public Health reporting 29,892 new cases on Wednesday, but there were 459 reported deaths.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. has seen 21.2 million cases and had 359,953 deaths.

Globally, there have been 86.9 million cases and a total of 1.88 million deaths.

First day: 270 vaccinations, but others in line without appointments
  • Updated

SEBRING — Of those residents 65 and older who lined up to get the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, 270 got a shot.

Estimates from county staff of the numbers scheduled for this afternoon and Saturday are 300 each day. Only those who received an email or phone call on Monday to confirm an appointment would need to be at the point of distribution today and Saturday, emphasized Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski.

All those who get the vaccine this week will need to return in 28 days to get a second dose.

Highlands County Emergency Manager LaTosha Reiss said Tuesday that everyone who’s had the vaccine already would automatically go on a list to receive a second dose, as required to create immunity, and would be scheduled in the future.

In the meantime, she said, anyone who receives a dose should receive a vaccination card, which will state the lot number of the vaccine they received and where and when they received it.

“You have to have that record on you at all times,” Reiss said.

Anyone who has not yet had the vaccine and did not get a call or email to schedule an appointment, but they did register on Monday, county officials urge them to hold onto their registration number and to monitor local news and the county’s website and social media for more information on the vaccination procedures.

Right now the county is in the process of revamping the registration and appointment procedure to make it easier for the public, said Highlands County Assistant Public Information Officer Karen Clogston.

For those getting vaccinations today and Saturday, Clogston recommends people wear a short-sleeve or sleeveless shirt, since the shot will go in the deltoid muscle where the shoulder meets the arm. Also, she wants people to remember to wear masks and practice social distancing at the point of distribution, especially while in line waiting to check in.

Rybinski said many people on Tuesday were not observing the guidelines for social distancing, but she reminds people to please do that today and Saturday.

“We will be enforcing it,” Rybinski said.

Although county staff will have markings on the floor where immunizations are given, rules of Lakeshore Mall prohibit them marking the whole common area. People will need to gauge 6-foot distances themselves.

The entrance being used now will be the west entrance at the old Kmart at the mall, Clogston said. She asked people to please follow all instructions by staff while on site to help make the line and process go quicker.

Rybinski also said Wednesday that Tuesday’s line had people show up as early as 8 a.m. and stay past noon when they either did not have a confirmed appointment or had one scheduled for today or Saturday.

Some people were told via county social media that they needed to have gotten a phone call or email before going to the POD, Rybinski said, but decided to go anyway.

People who show up for a confirmed appointment time should expect a 15-30 minute wait in line with about another hour to receive the vaccine, Clogston said, which includes being observed for 15 minutes for possible side effects before they leave.

Side effects for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, named “mRNA-1273,” could include pain, swelling and redness in the arm where you get the shot, followed by chills, tiredness and headache, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov.

Side effects may start within a day or two, feeling like the flu, but should go away in a few days, the CDC states. The shot does not contain eggs, preservatives or latex, but anyone who is allergic to polyethylene glycol (PEG) and polysorbate are recommended not to get the shot.

Also, anyone who has an allergic reaction to this vaccine within four hours of the shot is recommended not to have the second dose a month later.

County officials said that, going forward, the appointment process will be simplified, and that people should continue to monitor the county website and social media for more details.

Penny Pringle, assistant administrator for the Florida Department of Health for Highlands and DeSoto counties, told commissioners on Tuesday that her agency, which previously dealt only with testing and contact tracing, is now doing vaccine administration through the county site and local hospitals.

“In the words of the state surgeon general, our mantra is to ‘Get it in, get it out,’” Pringle said, assuring commissioners that her office would ask for more allotments. “Our goal is to put testing out of business through herd immunity and vaccine administration.”

Pringle said she had her vaccination last Wednesday, prior to New Year’s Day, and had no side effects or symptoms. She is keeping track of any possible symptoms each day.

“I’m doing everything I’m asking the public to do,” Pringle said.

So far, she said, none of the doses the Health Department has given have had any harmful side effects.

Commission Chair Scott Kirouac said that with 106,000 people in the county, administering vaccines tok 70% of the population, the minimum recommended to begin creating “herd immunity” would be slightly more than 70,000 people.

If the county manages to vaccinate 5,000 per week, that would still take almost three and a half months.

“We ask that you are respectful of staff,” Kirouac said. “Are we perfect? No, but we’re doing our best.”